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Zirpoli: Too many willing to play Russian roulette with our children | COMMENTARY

On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump said that our children were “essentially immune” to COVID-19. In fact, since the start of the pandemic through Aug. 27, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, there have been more than 476,000 cases in children.

In Carroll County, of the total 1,060 community cases reported thus far, 22 were younger than 10 years old and 115 were between 10 and 19 years old.

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More adults have contracted the virus than children because adults have been working, shopping, are out and about, and exposing themselves to the virus in ways that children have not. Children have been home from school and, for the most part, away from their usual summer activities. As children’s exposure increases, however, their infection rates are increasing. This is especially true with schools opening and recreational activities starting up again.

The Carroll County Health Department announced 68 new cases last week (through Friday afternoon), up from 36 the week before. After seeing hundreds of people congregating around youth sports games this past weekend, expect to see this trend continue.

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Some governors in highly infected states have insisted that their students physically return to school even though red flags throughout the summer months predicted additional outbreaks. In Georgia, for example, a summer camp for 600 kids demonstrated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that “children are susceptible to the virus and may spread it to others” as much as adults. Of the 344 children and camp employees tested, 75 percent tested positive for the virus “less than one week after spending time together without wearing masks.”

So much for the president’s statement that “for the most part … they don’t catch it very easily, and … they don’t transfer it to other people, or certainly not very easily.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that almost 100,000 children tested positive for the virus just during the last two weeks of July, long before schools started opening. Health experts believe that the increasing number of cases in children is related to family vacations taken in July.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, within weeks of opening schools in several southern states, there has been a 90% increase in the number of cases of the coronavirus among children in the United States, with large clusters of cases in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi where students attended school in person.

In Georgia’s North Paulding High School, according to The Daily Mail (Aug. 6), 15-year-old Hannah Watters posted on social media a picture of crowded hallways of mask-less students. The school was soon closed when school officials stated that “at least” 35 students and teachers tested positive. Watters was initially suspended from school, but the suspension was rescinded. It is interesting that school leaders said they did not know how to enforce mask-wearing, but they had no problem punishing Watters who violated their social media policy when she posted the picture.

Similar outbreaks occurred throughout the state of Georgia. In Cherokee County School District, according to The New York Times, 28 positive cases were identified in their first week of school. By week two, there were 108 cases. By week three, 1,193 students and teachers were placed in quarantine, and instruction for all the students had to be moved online. This has been repeated across the South where schools initially mandated in-person attendance.

Then there are the teachers and other school employees. Many of them are expressing their concern with their feet. ABC News in Buffalo reported Sept. 4 that in Williamsville Central School District in New York, 90 teachers and staff took a leave of absence, and 111 resigned leaving the district without enough teachers to open schools.

There is a link between our collective failure to get the virus under control and our ability to safely open schools. In Iowa, for example, as of last week, while experiencing the highest outbreak of any state in the nation, the governor still refused to mandate mask-wearing while demanding that all students physically return to school.

Nationally, the president wants the rewards — a strong economy, praise, reelection — without doing the hard work and making the politically difficult decisions, like mandating and modeling mask-wearing. Instead of working to get the virus under control, he plays golf, wreaks havoc with the U.S. Post Office, and makes fun of people wearing masks during his campaign rallies.

Imagine if Trump put as much effort into slowing down COVID-19 as he has slowed the U.S. mail. We might be able to open schools without playing Russian roulette with our children.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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